Quebec is friendly, quaint, and an outdoor traveler’s bucket list destination.
Bring your walking or hiking shoes, as the best way to explore Quebec City is by foot.
With various hills and two natural levels due to its location on the cliffs of the St. Lawrence, there are over thirty staircases. The largest staircase in Quebec City and my personal favorite is Cap Blanc with nearly 400 stairs, which is a great workout for locals and athletic visitors alike; however, most are less strenuous and with fewer stairs.
Regardless a trip to Quebec is good for your legs with no good excuse for skipping dessert or that extra glass of wine…
To get a vantage point of Quebec City’s strategic position and beauty, I headed to the Ramparts and the Citadel.
Here you will see the city’s wall, which is the only walled city in North America. The easiest entry is off of Rue St. Louis. From the various lookout points, you will see the Planes of Abraham, a park with nature trails for walking and biking, which was also the location of the game changing battle in 1759 when the British defeated the French. Also, you will witness the iconic Frontenac Hotel taking center stage overlooking both the valley and the St. Lawrence River with its in coming ships both cargo and cruises.
To continue exploring Old Quebec with Lower Town and Petit Champlain, a neighborhood with bistros, resto-pubs, and shops, there are several options from the nearby Frontenac Terrace: ride the cable funicular down, climb down the Frontenac Stairs at the northeast end of the terrace, or walk the windy Montagne St. In all cases, you will arrive to Petit Champlain, allowing you time to stroll the shops, view Plaza Royal, and walk to the river and its pedestrian and bike friendly boardwalk.
Quebec City is a very bike friendly city hosting world-class bike races like the Grand Prix Cycliste as well as having roughly 250 miles of trails in and around the city. Although having the Lower and Upper Town makes cycling challenging with large hills, there are wonderful trails without the need of traversing the cliffs.
I chose to rent a bike from Cyclo Services, which is near the harbor in Lower Town. From the shop, I biked on a well-maintained and marked trail following the river past the Farmer’s Market, the Marche du Vieux-Port de Quebec, to the Domaine de Maizerets, its Arboretum, and Montmorency Falls. At the falls, there is yet another set of stairs ideal for shots of Quebec City’s landscape, the St. Lawrence, Isle of Orleans, and the powerful waterfall. However, if a cable car is more appealing, at the falls you can take a ride up to an overlook as well as have an elegant bite to eat at Le Manoir Montmorency or pack a snack from the Vieux-Port Farmer’s Market. The roundtrip from Lower Town to Montmorency Falls is 7.5 miles.
Upon return to the city, enjoy the changed ambiance from your early morning sun to the playful colors and shadows as the afternoon sneaks away.
From Lower Town, you can take the funicular up to the Frontenac terrace, which provides beautiful views. However, I selected to climb Montagne St, which has a steep incline, but leads right past a lovely mural outside of Plaza Royal and into Rue St. Louis. Within minutes of walking on St. Louis from either the funicular or Montagne St, you will pass through the Port St. Louis to the Parliament and its gardens. As a finale and unbeatable panoramic views of Quebec City, the Marie-Guyart Building has an observatory on its 32nd floor. Only minutes away from the Parliament, I highly recommend this as a visual recap of your first day in Quebec.
As the sun disappears, the Old Town buildings frame the dimly lit streets inviting diners into one of the many romantic restaurants.
For a multi-generational restaurant with classic French cuisine on Rue St. Louis, Le Continental specializes in flambé of beef with impeccable French service. Its sister restaurant Conti Caffe is a trendy French-Italian fusion restaurant located in the same building with a great vibe. Regardless of your choice of restaurant, I would suggest ordering a Domaine Pinnacle cider, a local, family owned orchard and cidery. The cider is light, sweet, and a perfect finale to day one of your Quebec City adventure.
I experienced the outdoors adventure of Quebec on day two by driving to Jacques-Cartier Park, which is located only 30 minutes from downtown Quebec City. With over 250 square miles of reserve, the u-shaped park invites visitors to a range of activities from over 60 miles of hiking trails, 19 miles of biking, and of course kayaking, rafting canoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
On my day in the park, I split the day in half with a combo of hiking and rafting. I started by walking a gentle, guided hike through the plateau area of the park called Les Abris Sous Roches (Rocks shelter). There I climbed through narrow passages and relaxed in several rock shelters while witnessing many ferns, berries of all kinds, and a unique lightning moss, a bioluminescent moss, with the surrounding forest of birch, maple, and elm trees providing shade. In the afternoon, I took the plunge with another four adventure seekers for 5 miles of whitewater rafting, crossing four Class 2 rapids while portaging the only Class 3 rapids. Geared with wet suits, life jackets, and a local guide, we were challenged by the river’s currents, rapids, as well as numerous shallow sections where we ran aground. Over the two-hour trip, we witnessed blue herons and kingfishers; however, in peak times of the year, it is common to spot moose as well as bears.
After a full day of activities in Jacques-Cartier, choose from various accommodations at the park, including drive-up tent sites, rustic cabins, yurts, and even luxurious cabins with balconies and all of the modern amenities, or return to Quebec City with a stop at one of its popular Nordic Spas with treatments for tired hikers, bikers, and paddlers a like.
I selected the spa option, which was my first ever Nordic Spa experience at Siberia Spa. Its spa treatment is a three-step process. You start with a hot treatment whether a hot tub, steam sauna, or dry sauna followed by a cold treatment with choices from cold waterfall pools to a refreshing dip in the river flowing along the back of the property.
The final step is rest, which can be near a fire outside or inside one of its relaxation rooms in relative silence. I repeated the cycle twice breaking the silence by squealing as I forced my body into the cold water. I now know that I wouldn’t be a good candidate for a polar bear club. However, regardless of the temperature shock, I did get thoroughly relaxed, taking a nap in my last relaxation room with a fireplace and hammock.
A weekend to Quebec is a full menu of outdoor adventures with the elegance of fine cuisine and pampering of spas. Off the heavily beaten down, crowded path of other outdoor adventure destinations, Quebec is just the breath of fresh air for a weekend getaway from it all.
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Heidi Siefkas is an author and adventurer from small-town Wisconsin. With a down to earth style and just enough sass, she debuts her inspirational memoir, When All Balls Drop fall 2014. Heidi lives in Kauai, but also calls the Midwest and South Florida home. She is currently writing a sequel to her memoir as well as documenting her many travels, given her severe case of wanderlust. Connect with Heidi at www.heidisiefkas.com, Facebook, and Twitter.